Pittsburgh, PA

Self-directed learning, part 1: Steering one's own education

The Homepage, published by Hazelwood Initiative

By Maggie Bogdanich, Three Rivers Village School

It’s summer break and most students are out of school, hopefully enjoying their time at home, on vacation, at camps, or playing with their friends. Maybe some kids are finding themselves bored and unsure how to fill their time. Three Rivers Village School’s calendar resembles, very closely, Pittsburgh Public School’s calendar so our students are also out. Though that may be one of the only resemblances our school has to PPS.

Play takes up a lot of time at TRVS, whether that means playing dodgeball or a board game, or hanging out talking.Photo by Lauren McNulty

You could argue that our school more closely resembles summer break. The kind of summer break where the days were wide open and what kids chose to do that day (within the bounds of what a family deems safe) was completely up to them.

That’s how our school operates. Kids choose their activities, whether they be active play, conversation, drawing, reading, playing video games, music, gardening… the list is as endless as students' imaginations. The only limitations are a rules put in place to support a school community based on rights, responsibilities, and respect. This is the essence of an educational approach known as self-directed education. Learning this way tends to look radically different from a classroom education.

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education defines self-directed education as education that derives from the self-chosen activities and life experiences of the learner, whether or not those activities were chosen deliberately for the purpose of education. This kind of learning is becoming more widely recognized around the US and abroad as a liberating and empowering form of education. It dismantles the rigidity of curriculum-based learning and allows for a multitude of learning modalities.

Learning is not limited to a set of subjects; there is also space for students to develop life skills that are difficult to teach in a classroom and are best learned experientially. Not everyone will need to know how to parse a sentence or find the square root of 425 as an adult. Throughout their lives, all adults will need to think critically about big life choices, manage their time and relationships and know how to learn new things.

It can be hard to imagine what this kind of education might look like day to day and how a school could be structured to foster this kind of learning. It is even harder for people who learned in compulsory school settings to imagine what the world might look like to a student who has known the respect, responsibility and freedom of self-directed education. Next month’s update will try to answer those questions and others that folks usually ask about schools like TRVS.

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The Homepage is a print newspaper delivered monthly to households in Greater Hazelwood, Glen Hazel, Greenfield, Hays, New Homestead, Lincoln Place and The Run. Hazelwood Initiative, Inc., a community-based nonprofit, publishes The Homepage through a grant from the City of Pittsburgh and advertising revenue from local businesses and organizations. The mission of Hazelwood Initiative, as a community-based development corporation, is to build a stronger Hazelwood through inclusive community development. Sonya Tilghman, Executive Director of Hazelwood Initiative, Inc. (she/her) Juliet Martinez, Managing Editor of The Homepage (they/them) Sarah Kanar, Layout and Design of The Homepage(she/her)

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